Fired for cheating, CT state police recruits viewed exam early to gain ‘advantage,’ report shows

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A 162-page investigation report released Friday reveals how eight Connecticut State Police recruits accessed an online exam on accident investigations hours before it was set to be administered.

A 162-page investigation report released Friday reveals how eight Connecticut State Police recruits accessed an online exam on accident investigations hours before it was set to be administered.

Connecticut State Police / Contributed photo

An internal investigation that abruptly ended the careers of eight Connecticut State Police recruits shows they improperly accessed a test on accident investigations hours before it was to be administered to the 61-person class earlier this year.

In the 162-page internal affairs report, two investigators detail how the test was posted through an online software system — PowerDMS — and the eight recruits accessed the document throughout the day on Jan. 10 before it was scheduled to be administered in person that night.

“I decided to save it to my computer to use it as a study guide,” one recruit said when interviewed by investigators, according to the report.

When asked why, the recruit said: “To use it as an advantage, sir,” the report stated.

Several other fired recruits admitted when asked that they also downloaded the exam to use as a study guide.

“The decision I made was an absolute mistake,” one recruit said, according to the report. “I regret it every single day.”

The report identified the fired recruits as Andrew Boucher, Bruno Franceschi, Jennifer Giron, Christian Sienko, John Simmon, Tanner Studlack, Jovanni Vincenty-Medina and Cody Witkowski. Hearst Connecticut Media Group could not reach them for comment.

When asked if any changes were being made at the academy, Col. Stavros Mellekas said, “the process is being reviewed by command staff.”

Test posted early

While recruits usually live on the Meriden campus while attending the police academy, the report noted they had been working from home given the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state in early January.

The instructor for the accident investigation portion of the academy created the exam with the option for recruits to take it at home during an allotted two-hour window.

Staff at the academy had planned to administer the test on Jan. 7, so the accident investigation instructor drafted a 25-question exam in a Microsoft Word document. It was uploaded to the PowerDMS platform on Dec. 27, 2021, by another instructor, the report read. The instructor who wrote the exam then went on personal leave from Dec. 29, 2021, until Jan. 11.

But on Jan. 6, staff decided to administer the exam in person on Jan. 10, so a commander at the academy changed the publish date to that day, according to report.

Recruits were notified the exam would be held in person from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10, the report stated. However, instructors left the exam on PowerDMS with a Jan. 10 publication date in case the recruits were unable to return to in-person learning. At 12:01 a.m. that day, the test was released and recruits could access the document online, the report read.

Investigators noted that around 12:48 a.m., recruits began accessing the exam. They were required to provide a signature that they reviewed it. But the report noted that the students were not supposed to work on the test.

Returning to the academy

Recruits were required to return to the academy on Jan. 10 at 5:45 a.m. for a schedule that included Taser and criminal investigations training, along with a criminal investigations test and the accident investigations exam, the report read.

During the day, information circulated that the document posted to PowerDMS was the actual exam scheduled for that evening, according to the report. Investigators said some of the recruits accessed the exam “with designs of referencing or downloading the test in a manor tantamount to a violation of Connecticut State Police Training Academy Rules and Regulations section 1.13.1 pertaining to Cheating/Plagiarism,” the report stated.

After lunch, an individual, whose name was redacted, was behind two recruits in line for the men’s bathroom when the person saw one of the recruits holding a printed copy of the exam and appearing to be studying it, the report stated. The recruit was also talking to other recruits in a way that “made clear he was using the test as a study guide,” the report read.

The entire recruit class was informed about the exam being available on PowerDMS and they were urged not to access the document, the report stated. They were also told to inform an instructor if they had worked on the exam, the report stated. It was unclear from the report who addressed the recruits. After receiving these instructions, an audit of the PowerDMS system showed that some recruits continued to access the exam, the report read.

At 4:30 p.m. that day, the recruit coordinator, a sergeant in the state police, informed the class the test would be administered on paper and not through the online system. Investigators said this was the first time the recruits were told explicitly how the exam would be administered, the report read.

An individual, whose name was redacted, then told the sergeant that other recruits witnessed one of their classmates working on the exam, the report read. The sergeant told the individual to return to class and that he would speak to the recruits after the criminal investigation exam.

Recruits confronted

Around 5:10 p.m., the sergeant called all 61 recruits into the academy auditorium. He told them he was aware that some of them had accessed the document through PowerDMS so they could “work on” the exam, the report read.

The sergeant said accessing the document to “work on” the exam was not allowed. He asked for the recruits who accessed the exam for this purpose to stand up and go to the back of the auditorium, the report stated.

Two of the recruits stood up and headed to the back of the auditorium, the report read. The sergeant repeated his request, but no other recruits stood up, the report stated.

After the sergeant said the agency’s technology department was going to review each recruit’s laptop to see who had worked on the exam, six other recruits stood up, according to the report.

The eight recruits, who were the subject of the internal investigation, were taken out of the auditorium and told to write a memo about what they had done, the report read.

When later asked by investigators, some of the recruits who initially did not stand up said they “froze” or “panicked.”

Termination packages were later put together for the eight recruits before they went before the agency’s Termination Board to explain their actions.

The remaining 53 recruits were given a questionnaire as investigators looked into the cheating allegations. According to the report, the investigators said a “vast majority” of the recruits knew the document was a test, and many closed out of it. Some expressed confusion about the test showing up in the documents section of PowerDMS and not the test section.

All of the accusations of cheating against the eight recruits were upheld, according to the report.

“The men and women of the State Police are expected to hold themselves to the highest standards in law enforcement,” Mellekas, commander of state police, said in a statement earlier this week in announcing the termination of the eight recruits. “When those standards are not met, a process for review must be followed to determine if recruits are worthy of earning the title of ‘state trooper.’”